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Telluride 2011: George Clooney and Alexander Payne Deliver 'The Descendants'

The film had its very first public screening at the Chuck Jones' Cinema Friday.

George Clooney in 'The Descendants
Fox Searchlight

“Paradise can go f*** itself.”

THR's Complete Telluride 2011 Coverage

This is one of George Clooney’s first voiceover lines in his new movie, The Descendants, and it perfectly sets the tone for what can only be the newest Alexander Payne film. Patrons and press were treated to an early sneak peek Friday afternoon at the Chuck Jones’ Cinema, with Clooney, Payne and co-star Shailene Woodley there to field questions afterward at the film's very first public screening.

Set in Hawaii (hence the “paradise” crack), the film follows a distant father forced to reckon with his two renegade daughters, a gigantic real estate deal and a host of other unexpected problems after his wife goes into a coma following a boating accident. The role continues the trajectory Clooney began with Up in the Air of taking on roles that showcase a more vulnerable, less polished side as his characters struggle with mundane issues like connection and family dysfunction. Here he is lost again, only with less confidence.

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As Clooney admitted during the Q&A about taking on the role, “I was worried about the ability to be a schlub.” It is indeed plenty fun to watch him lose arguments to his sharp-witted daughters and run around in Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops.

The film is another uncategorizable effort from Payne, who wrings laughter and heartbreak in the same moments. Descendants does this throughout, prompting the woman sitting next to me at one critical moment to mutter, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.” That seems like just the thing Payne is going for and which is likeliest to bring in audiences.

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The rapport between Clooney and Payne during the Q&A, hosted by THR’s Todd McCarthy, showed their mutual respect and self-deprecation. It turns out Payne had the opportunity to cut part of the film at Clooney’s house in Italy, and Clooney ribbed Payne for wearing a sweater tied around his neck. (Later in the Q&A, Payne subtlely slipped it off.) The funniest moment was hearing Clooney answer a question about how Payne prepped him for a difficult crying scene.

“He reminded me that he decided not to cast me in Sideways,” Clooney said drily.